When I was in high school, I took revenge on my mother by joining the local drum & bugle corps. I wanted to join as a drummer, but the corps needed horn players, so I ended up playing the bass baritone bugle. I got be pretty good at it, but the hours I spent practicing drove my mother, and my neighbors, a little bit crazy. For a while I thought I might stick with drum corps, which is a pretty big deal once you get past a certain level, but that didn’t work out, and so making music was something I did pretty much only at my grandmother’s on that same Steinway upright—the original sales receipt for which my mother gave me recently so I could take, as she put it, “a trip down memory lane:”
All that playing at my grandmother’s must have done me some good, because when I finally had the chance to take piano lessons, a semester’s worth during my senior year of high school with a teacher named, I think, Ms. Wise (or Weiss), I was good enough to take a stab at Ernesto Lecuona’s Malagueña:
It’s a beautiful piece of music, well-worth listening to, if you have a few minutes:
By the time I started college, I was already beginning to think I’d be a writer, not a musician, so when I played piano—which I did for hours each week in the practice rooms at Stony Brook University—I did so only for myself. I never tried to learn any actual songs, though, preferring the improvised music I made based on what I’d learned in the couple of music theory courses I took, until I started working at Surprise Lake Camp and got involved with the drama program. I learned there to fake my way as accompanist through the music of Cats, A Chorus Line, Fiddler on the Roof and more. Then, I met my friend Bill, who had ambitions to become a singer-songwriter, and we started writing music together. We even performed once at The Bitter End, though whoever did the publicity spelled my name wrong:
When my friendship with Bill ended, maybe because it ended—we did not part on good terms and I was angry and devastated by the loss—I lost the desire to perform on stage. I was getting serious about my writing and I made a conscious decision to focus my energies there. I still played for my own enjoyment, and sometimes I’d play for friends at a party, but I no longer thought of music as something I wanted to pursue seriously. That changed, for a time anyway, when I discovered how easy it was to compose music with a MIDI synthesizer, a computer, and the right software. I might not have wanted to perform in front of an audience, but the idea of writing music appealed to me. So I bought the equipment I needed and got started.
Over the next three or four years, I composed fifteen or so pieces that I thought of as complete, but the five in the Soundcloud playlist at the top of this post are the only ones that survive. I found them on my computer not too long ago and I liked them well enough that I thought them worth preserving and sharing with others.
These days, I don’t play much piano at all, but I miss it. I really do.